The Washington Capitals slashed their training-camp roster to 39 yesterday, returning 14 players to junior teams and releasing three others.

Among the survivors of the first cutdown was center Claude Dumas, a wiry young player selected by management as the best unsigned rookie forward in camp.

Although Dumas scored only two goals during the series of intrasquad games, he impressed everyone with his puck handling and playmaking as he helped Larry Murphy's Marauders take the camp championship.

"He is a very talented player and of all our young draftees I feel he has the most pure talent," said General Manager David Poile. "His work in camp warrants giving him a try in a couple of exhibition games at the NHL level.

"He has a slight build and it will be interesting to see if he can handle the faster pace, going against stronger players."

A fifth-round draft choice in June, Dumas drew comparisons with Gaetan Duchesne, another determined French Canadian with limited knowledge of English who came to camp as an eighth-round pick in 1981 and played so well that he is still here.

"I'm aware of the background of Duchesne," Dumas said. "I hope to stay a couple of weeks and after that we will see what happens. I'm surprised I won the rookie award, but I knew I played well in training camp. I was lucky to play with (Yvon) Corriveau, because he was very good, and I was also lucky he was not eligible for the award.

"I was nervous for one or two games, but as things became more advanced, I was less nervous. The better things went for me, the better I felt."

Before coming to camp, Dumas trained with the Granby Bisons, the Quebec League team for whom he recorded 19 goals and 37 assists last season. It was Granby that sent center Stephane Richer and goalie Patrick Roy to Montreal, as well as another Washington draftee, center Martin Bouliane, to the Canadian Olympic team.

"Before I left, the other players wished me luck and told me to try to stay in Washington," Dumas said. "My coach said, 'Your sweater is waiting for you, but good luck anyway.' "

Dumas and Corriveau, Washington's No. 1 draftee, were the only players with remaining junior eligibility to make it past the first cut. Poile said they would play in at least two of the four upcoming exhibitions. Poile also wants to get a good look at defensemen Yves Beaudoin and Grant Jennings this weekend; both 20, they could play either in Binghamton or as overage juniors.

The Capitals face the Hartford Whalers twice, in Binghamton, N.Y., tonight and Hartford Friday, and the Boston Bruins twice, at Capital Centre Saturday and in Boston Sunday.

Given outright releases yesterday were defenseman Stu Wenaas and goaltenders Mike Blake and Mark Chiamp. Blake's departure assured Rick St. Croix of a spot in the organization and Poile initiated discussions yesterday with St. Croix's agent.

Five of the demoted juniors went to Peterborough, Ontario, the team that is favored to win the Memorial Cup. They were defensemen Dallas Eakins and Larry Shaw, center Rob Murray, left wing Kris King and right wing John Druce, who underwent successful surgery yesterday for torn ligaments in his thumb.

Other players sent to Ontario League teams included defensemen Mark Haarmann, Oshawa, and Bill Houlder, North Bay; right wings Vito Cramarossa, Toronto, and Doug Stromback, Kitchener; center Steve Hollett, Sault Ste. Marie, and left wings Frank DiMuzio, Belleville; Jamie Nadjiwan, Sudbury, and Steve Hrynewich, Ottawa.

Returned to Regina, Saskatchewan, of the Western League was defenseman Frank Joo, one of three players to suffer a broken nose during the rough camp. The others were left wings Andre Hidi and Lou Franceschetti, the latter struck yesterday by a deflected puck off the stick of Daryl Evans.

Poile said that center Steve Linseman, who scored six goals in the intrasquad games, might attend the University of Waterloo this winter. If he does not, he may be signed for Binghamton.

Besides Dumas, awards were presented to Houlder as the best of the unsigned defensemen, Rod Langway as the best-conditioned athlete in camp and Alan Haworth as the leading scorer, with three goals and six assists in intrasquad play.